Tibet and the Politics of Exile in the New Millennium

Tibet and the Politics of Exile in the New Millennium

Samdhong Rinpoche, Tibetan Prime Minister in Exile

On the politics of exile

Guest post by Majid Razvi

If “monk-politician” strikes you as somewhat of a contradiction – well, you might be right. Meet Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. His title contains within it a reminder of the current plight of the Tibetans.

On July 14, the Culture in Global Affairs Research and Policy Program of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University hosted Samdhong Rinpoche as a speaker in the CIGA Seminar Series.

Ven. Samdhong Rinpoche discusses the politics of exile at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, July 14, 2011. Photo courtesy of Bradley Aaron.

Rinpoche began with an apology for his English skills, which proved to be better than many native speakers. He then declared that he was “not comfortable” with politics. (I am reminded of Plato’s hypothetical philosopher-kings, who would likely be not at all interested in the political position. Perhaps reluctance should be a prerequisite for public office!

His lecture delved into the history of Tibet and its people. What struck me most, however, was Rinpoche’s constant reiteration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s longstanding position: what is important is not political autonomy, but cultural and religious freedom.

“We are not concerned with who is ruling Tibet,” said Rinpoche, “but how they are ruling Tibet.”

During the Q&A session, a reporter asked how Samdhong Rinpoche felt about President Obama’s failure to meet with the Dalai Lama. With that blend of rigorous logic and holistic wisdom that so-perfectly characterizes Buddhism, Rinpoche pointed out that ascribing such a “failure” to the President before His Holiness had left the country was premature.

Two days later, at the White House:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with President Barack Obama, July 16 2011. Flickr, Creative Commo

Majid Razvi received his B.A. in 2011 from Virginia Commonwealth University where he majored in Philosophy and Religious Studies. He has a strong interest in Tibetan epistemology, logic, and argumentation. He intends to pursue graduate study in philosophy.